With a picturesque waterfront and relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere Crete is an ideal introduction to the islands of Greece. It offers an abundance of character and natural beauty with a local culture rich in customs, tradition and outstanding Greek cuisine.
Old Chania has traditional workshops and modern boutiques for every taste. In Maherádika (the knife-makers’ quarter), get an inscribed, horn-handled dagger at Apostolos Pakhtikos (Sifáka 29). Tzangarakis (Sifáka 18) is Crete’s best copper antique outlet, crammed with reasonably priced objects not findable in the rest of Greece. Assorted leather goods – boots, sandals, handbags – line Skrydlóf Street. The last loom weaver in Crete claims to be Mihalis Manousakis, at Roka (Zambelíou 61), while the Centre of Traditional Folk Art and Culture (Skoufón 20, Evraïkí) specialises in top-notch embroidery. House of Amber (Kondyláki 13, Evraïkí) has ‘worry beads’ made of amber. Finally, the New Town’s covered market bulges with all manner of local foodstuffs, from stamnagáthi (spiny chicory) to apáki (cured streaky pork) by way of mountain cheeses and dried herbs.
Chania offers conventional Cretan eateries and more Mediterranean-fusion ones. Tear yourself away from the interconnecting Venetian harbours, as most establishments there offer poor value – except for inconspicuous Halkina (Aktí Tombázi 29-30), popular for titbits like marathópita (fennel pie), aubergine roulade and apáki (cured streaky pork). East of the Old Town in Halépa, Kalamoti (Venizélou 142) proves a dab hand at casserole dishes and seafood, plus excellent myzíthra cheese. West of the walls in Neahóra, Ouzythino (Aktí Papanikolí, fishing jetty) offers seaside dining without airs or graces and heaping portions of Sfakian sausages, stuffed peppers and courgette patties. Forego sea views at Tamam (Zambelíou 49, Evraïkí), famous for Middle Eastern fusion fare and atmospheric Turkish-bath setting.
Masquers, parades and parties take over the city during carnival season, with some top events also taking place in outlying villages on the nearby Akrotíri peninsula.
Blessing of Sheep
Takingplace on 23 April, or the Monday after Easter if that’s later, the Blessing of Sheep is the big event in Asigoniá, a pastoral village in the hills above Chania. All the flocks are milked (the result offered to spectators), blessed by the priest and re-belled as necessary.
Sampajana Jazz Festival
For four days in June, the Sampajana Jazz Festival plays host to not just jazz, but funk and ‘ethnic’ gigs too, in the Firka Bastion of the outer Venetian harbour. Past Greek stars have included Psarandonis and Haig Yazdjian.
Free grilled sardines at Neahóra Beach mark the end of the sardine season, with musical accompaniment.
The annual Cultural Summer sees municipally organised performances in a host of venues scattered across the Old and New Town; given the economic crisis, expect the programme to be sparser in future.
This is a Summer only destination